There was a telling moment during Manchester United's 2-1 loss to Arsenal in the FA Cup sixth round on Monday night. After United fell behind to Danny Welbeck's 61st-minute winner, Louis van Gaal turned nervously to his substitutes bench. Having already brought Phil Jones and Michael Carrick on at half-time in place of Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera, the Dutchman was left with only one option on the bench.
Casting his worried eyes over the options available, he saw Juan Mata - a player who has been consistently out of favour during Van Gaal's first season at United. He also saw Radamel Falcao who, despite never having hit the heights since arriving at Old Trafford last summer, remains one of the game's greatest natural finishers. Bypassing both players, the Manchester United manager instead summoned Adnan Januzaj.
Understandably, eyebrows were raised and heads were shaking as the fourth official put the number 11 in green on his electronic board. The Belgian youngster - who himself has endured a less than impressive spell on the fringes of the first-team this season - entered the fray for Marcos Rojo while Falcao watched on from the bench. Januzaj proceeded to set off on a couple of fruitless endeavours down the flanks before entering Michael Oliver's book for diving. It was an embarrassing moment for United, not least Van Gaal, who could only look on, perhaps knowing that he had made the wrong decision.
The decision was lambasted by pundits following the game's conclusion. "The poor lad must be thinking: What am I doing here?" Jamie Redknapp wrote in the Daily Mail.
"I know he is not the player United thought they were getting, but isn't it down to the manager to get the best out of him?"
While it is fair to say Falcao has failed to emulate the form at Atletico Madrid that established him as one of European football's deadliest marksmen, his goalscoring prowess is still significantly greater than Januzaj's - who now has more yellow cards for diving (5) than goals (4) during his fledgeling Old Trafford career. It was a baffling decision from Van Gaal and one that seemed to sum up his estimation of the Colombian striker.
Adding to the tension and misery was Danny Welbeck - the United reject who Van Gaal cast out in favour of Falcao. The Arsenal forward pounced on Antonio Valencia's under-hit back-pass, nicking it past the onrushing David De Gea before converting into an empty net. Welbeck exploded with celebration which is highly uncommon in the modern game when former players score at their old stomping grounds. However, there was no love lost between Welbeck and De Gea and the England international's winner only fuelled the debate over Van Gaal's decision making.
The United boss arrived at Old Trafford with a glittering reputation as a manager of excellent tactical acumen and decision-making, but what were touted as his chief strengths have been incessantly scrutinised during his increasingly troubled tenure. There have been times when Van Gaal's decisions have prompted bemusement among pundits and fans, not least when when he insisted on playing Wayne Rooney in central midfield to accommodate both Falcao and Van Persie up front.
Rooney's return to goalscoring form has consolidated the belief that he is best deployed up top as opposed to controlling the game in a more creative sense in midfield. The fact that Van Gaal has appeared to accept that adds further confusion as to why he has apparently given up on Falcao. The Colombian had been hailed as a "great professional" by fellow benchwarmer Juan Mata.
"He is training very well, he is waiting for his opportunity like the great professional he is, like the great team-mate he is," Mata is quoted as saying by the Express. Despite his admirable approach to training, however, it doesn't seem to have impacted Van Gaal's mode of thinking. It looks absolutely certain that Falcao will not be making his loan spell permanent in the summer, but if he does leave, there will be a sense of embitterment that could have been easily avoided.
His constant occupation on the subs bench will have frustrated him to the point where he will reflect angrily on his time in the Premier League. At a critical juncture in United's season, Van Gaal made the wrong decision and we are left wondering what might have been. The Colombian may have found the net after coming on and Manchester United may not this morning be looking down the barrel at another trophyless season.
For more fan views or to join the conversation, visit www.90min.com